Formula DRIFT Pro 2 drivers and teams were back at it at Evergreen Speedway after an 11-week midseason break, contesting Round 3 of 4 for 2017. At this point last year, ex-pro Marc Landreville in the Perry Performance S14 was pretty much untouchable, well on his way to dominating the season. What a difference 12 months makes - by event's end, about a half dozen drivers remain alive mathematically for the Pro 2 title, but in all practicality this race is now between two pilots: Travis Reeder, who has led in the points for two out of the three rounds so far, and Matt Vankirk, who like Reeder has two podiums under his belt this year.
As the only Pro 2 hot-shoe to break into the 90-point club in Washington, Dirk Stratton in the Stratton Racing C6 Corvette nabbed the number-one qualifying position on the first day of the two-day Round 3. Aussie sensation Josh Robinson in the Magnuson Superchargers Commodore Ute drove to P2, followed by Dylan Hughes in his S13, who was contesting his first Pro 2 round of the season. Vankirk in the Matt Vankirk Racing S13 qualified in fourth, Round 1 winner Kevin Lawrence in the Enjuku Racing S14.3 got fifth, and Round 2 victor Reeder qualified sixth in the Nameless Performance 240SX. Those not making the cut included Top Drift alumni Andy Hateley and Adam Knapik, and fan-fave Kelsey Rowlings.
Top 16 offered few surprises, with Donavan Brockway playing the only spoiler in his Red Baron Racing E30 after he took out the higher qualifying Ola Jaeger in the Team Japan Auto Mk4 Supra. Vankirk received a bye after opponent Austin Meeks in the Committed Service Brand S14 crashed in practice and could not make the start line, while Crick Filippi in the Team Burn the Most S13 broke chasing Brandon Schmidt's Mast Motorsports 240SX and Filippi's car could not proceed further. Trent Beechum in the Beechum Racing Mustang was eliminated after sliding into Robinson's Ute at the end of Zone 1, and Hughes moved on to Great 8 after Szilveszter Gyorgy earned an incomplete in the Szilveszter Drift Team S13 for stopping his run after crashing hard into the bank wall.
Great 8 kicked off with Stratton and Schmidt driving to a One-More-Time (OMT) tiebreaker, bonus laps that ended with Stratton advancing for putting on a better performance in the chase, followed by Vankirk's elimination of Lawrence, Vankirk in the lead going deeper into Zone 2 than his adversary. On the other side of the bracket, Robinson put away Brockway in some less-than-textbook laps (at one point Brockway had to make a huge correction on the bank), and Hughes and Reeder drifted to a OMT that ended with Hughes moving on due to his greater angle on the bank in the trailing position.
Almost like it was meant to be, all four top qualifiers survived into the semifinals. First up were Stratton and Vankirk, which didn't go well for Stratton; in the lead he was way off Clip 1, and in the chase he totally choked, allowing Vankirk to create a sizable gap, running a low line on the bank, and finally completely missing Zone 2. Robinson and Hughes went toe to toe next, driving to a One More Time; in the deciding laps, Hughes had the superior chase, enough to earn him a ticket to the final.
The last tandem of Round 3 was a doozy, Hughes and Vankirk needing additional laps to determine a winner. The extra frame saw Hughes really up the aggressiveness, and pay a price for it, appearing to go four wheels off at the circuit's Touch & Go area in his lead run and then on the chase almost slide into Vankirk as they paired up on the bank, causing Hughes to correct and the judges to award Vankirk the victory. Stratton picked up third place for out-qualifying Robinson.
One of the beauties of a four-event season is how much every round counts and can potentially shake up the standings. After Round 3, both Brody Goble and Randall Waters lost a lot of ground, but Vankirk, Stratton, and Robinson all moved up at least a couple places. But the real battle is at the top, between Reeder - who continues to hang on to the lead, albeit just barely - and Vankirk; the margin went from 78 points between first and second after Round 2 to now just 20 points, and just 106 markers remain up for grabs (6 max for qualifying and 100 max for winning tandem eliminations).
Not to sound too cliche, but it all boils down to the final Pro 2 event of the year, Round 4 at Texas Motor Speedway with Formula D Pro. The fun is set for September 7th and 8th, and if you can't be there in person we suggest the FD live stream - you can thank us later.